|Professor David Beaulieu is the Ruth A. Myers Endowed Chair in American Indian Education in the College of Education and Human Service Profession.|
Last summer, David Beaulieu returned to his home state of Minnesota to become the new Ruth A. Myers Endowed Chair in American Indian Education in the College of Education and Human Service Professions. For Beaulieu, Ruth Myers isn’t just a name. “I knew Ruth. I worked with her,” he said.
Myers was at the heart of the American Indian Education movement and was instrumental in getting the 1972 Indian Education Act signed into law. She and Beaulieu first met in 1979. It was an exciting time. “It was centered in Indian identity, and we were focused on change. New schools were emerging, new tribal colleges,” he said. But it wasn’t just big-picture, it was also personal. “I had a purpose. I could help Indian people,” he recalled.
An Amazing Career
An enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, White Earth Reservation, Beaulieu earned his Ph.D. in Education Administration from the University of Minnesota. Early in his career, he was vice president of Sinte Gleska College, Rosebud, South Dakota, which was the first Tribally Chartered Indian controlled college to achieve accreditation at the bachelor and master degree-granting level. From there, he moved into educational policy.
From 1984 to 1991, Beaulieu was the director of Indian Education for the State of Minnesota. Then, in 1991, Governor Arne Carlson appointed him as commissioner of the Department of Human Rights for the State of Minnesota. Beaulieu was the first American Indian to be appointed as a commissioner in Minnesota State government.
Next, Beaulieu worked at the national level, serving as the director of the Office of Indian Education, U.S. Department of Education, from 1997-2001. In that position, he was responsible for managing federal Indian education programs, coordinating policy development, and identifying research topics and priorities affecting American Indians and Alaska Natives within the Department of Education. He also worked to develop and implement President Clinton’s Executive Order on American and Alaska Native Education.
Eventually, Beaulieu left governmental policy work to return to his first love, teaching. “At my heart, I’m a teacher,” Beaulieu said. He came to UMD from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee where he was a professor in the Department of Education Policy and Community Studies, the Electa Quinney Endowed Professor of American Indian Education, and assistant to the provost and vice chancellor for University American Indian Program. He is an emeritus professor in Education Policy Studies from Arizona State University.
Teaching resonates with him because, from an early age, learning has resonated. “I realized I could take charge of my own education: Chippewa history, my family’s history. I wasn’t dependent on someone else telling me the history. I could do my own research. I could take my education with me,” he said.
It’s that kind of empowerment that he hopes to pass onto students in UMD’s American Indian Education program. “American Indian students have not always been able to connect to who they are, to their education. I hope to help them understand that they are in charge of their own education,” he said. Perhaps, more importantly, he hopes to instill a lifelong love of learning in all students. “I want them to learn how to be a student. I’m still learning.”
He’d like to bring higher visibility to the program. “Having a community presence, helps to attract more American Indian students.” There are broader implications in making a difference for American Indian students. “Improving quality of education for Indian students improves it for everyone,” he said.
In addition to helping young educators excel into the future, Beaulieu is working to record the past. He is writing a book about the history of American Indian Education. “Many books have focused on states and policies. I’m interested in the history of ideas, of people, and organizations – the Indian Education movement.”
He is eager to share what he knows about the early days of the movement. “Legacy work is really important. We need to tell people what we accomplished and what is left to do. We need to share, to think about where we’ve been and where we’re going.”
When Beaulieu came to UMD last summer, the CEHSP held a welcome feast in his honor and in the honor of two other individuals who were joining the college at the same time: His wife, Theresa Beaulieu, who is the new director of Eni-gikendaasoyang, and Roxanne Gould, a new assistant professor in the Department of Education.
“It was a wonderful celebration, like a reunion,” Beaulieu recalled. All of it has helped to affirm this new chapter in his life. “It’s good to be back home. It’s good to be back among Indian people.”
About Ruth A. Myers and the Ruth A. Myers Endowed Chair
The Ruth A. Myers Endowed Chair in American Indian Education was established at UMD in 1993. Ruth A. Myers served on the Duluth School Board and the Minnesota State Board of Education. She was employed by UMD in 1979 and created many programs to support American Indian students and others. For many years, she served as co-director of American Indian Programs (now the Center of American Indian and Minority Health in the Duluth School of Medicine). Myers was awarded an honorary doctorate by UMD at her retirement in 1994 for her many achievements. Myers was an enrolled member of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. She passed away in 2001 at the age of 75. For more details on Ruth Myers’ many accomplishments, visit the Minnesota Historical Society website.
Funding for the Endowed Chair came from the sale of “salt spring lands” in northern Minnesota. Salt spring lands (46,080 acres) were given to Minnesota by the federal government at statehood in 1858 to reserve for the public use any springs that produced naturally occurring salt, at a time when salt was needed to preserve meat before refrigeration was available. Visit the Minnesota Historical Societies website for more information about the search for salt springs.
In 1873, the Minnesota legislature transferred the administration of salt lands and their revenues to the University of Minnesota. When the University decided to sell the salt lands, Ruth Myers and the UMD American Indian Advisory Board advocated that a substantial portion of the resulting funds be dedicated to an Endowed Chair in American Indian Education, since the land had originally been Ojibwe land. They also proposed that the faculty member employed in this position be housed in the Department of Child and Family Development, which later became the Department of Education. It is largely due to the strong advocacy, hard work and persistence of Ruth Myers that the Endowed Chair was funded by the University of Minnesota.
Written by Kathleen McQuillan-Hofmann, Jan. 2015
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